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On December 27, 1850, King Kamehameha III signed an ordinance which established the Honolulu Fire Department (HFD) as the first fire department in the Hawaiian Islands.  It is the only fire department in the U.S. that was established by a ruling monarch.

W. C. Parke was the first Fire Chief.  In later years, King David Kalakaua, who served briefly with Engine 4, continued the personal interest of the monarchy in the Department.


Fire Chief
A. Cartwright


During the mid-1800s, fire fighting equipment consisted primarily of buckets and portable water supplies.  When Alexander Cartwright replaced Chief Parke as Fire Chief in 1853, the Department began to grow rapidly.  Several new hand-drawn engine companies were added, along with a hook and ladder company.  In 1870, the tallest landmark in Honolulu was the bell tower of Central Fire Station, then located on Union Street.  At night, a watchman would sit in the tower, ready to sound the alarm if he spotted a fire.  The Central Fire Station was later relocated to its present site at Beretania and Fort Streets.

Two of the Department's most famous fires occurred in Chinatown in downtown Honolulu, the first in 1886 and the second in 1900.  Each leveled almost the entire Chinatown community with damage estimates for both well exceeding $1 million.
In 1893, the Hawaiian Legislature passed an act authorizing funding for salaries for the Department's fire fighters.  Prior to this act, they had all served as volunteers.  In the same year, the Department purchased horses to pull its steam engines to fires rather than pulling them manually.  The first motorized apparatus arrived in 1912.  By 1920, the Department was completely motorized.


A telephone switchboard system was installed in 1930 and allowed the Department to send alarms out to the stations from one central location.  Radio communication was established in 1932 when transmitters were installed in three Fire Chiefs' vehicles.  The culmination of these communication improvements was the formation of the Fire Alarm Bureau in 1933.  Today, it is known as the Fire Communication Center.


During the Pearl Harbor attack on December 7, 1941, three engine companies, (Engines 1, 4, and 6) were dispatched to Hickam Air Force Base to fight the fires caused by enemy action.  Two Fire Captains and a hoseman were killed, and six other fire fighters were wounded while fighting fires at Hickam Field.  These fire fighters were awarded Purple Hearts and became the only civilian fire fighters in the U.S. to receive this award.







One of the Department's recent acquisitions is the Moku Ahi.  The Moku Ahi fireboat replaced the Abner T. Longley, which was commissioned in 1951.  The Moku Ahi is berthed at the Waterfront Station at Pier 15 in Honolulu Harbor.

See the History of the HFD for a historical perspective of the Honolulu Fire Department in 1950.


In 1959, Hawaii became the 50th state of the U.S. This meant that the HFD had served the people of Hawaii under a monarchy, a provisional government, a republic, a territory, and finally, a state of the Union.  William K. Blaisdell was the Fire Chief in 1959.


One of the Department's most important pieces of rescue and fire fighting equipment is the NOTAR helicopter, which was purchased in 1995.  This helicopter, like the ones that preceded it, continues to prove its value time and time again during mountain and ocean rescues and fire fighting surveillance and water drops.




Last Reviewed: Wednesday, October 02, 2013